Not every Presbyterian is happy that otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians now can be ordained legally and openly as pastors and church officers.
That pains me. I’ve long favored this constitutional change, which went into effect last year. (For my essay on what the Bible says about homosexuality, see this page on my daily blog.
Nonetheless, our denomination has a great opportunity to use this constitutional change to say something welcoming to people outside our doors. In fact, if we do this right this could be a great tool to engage in a practice identified by a word that often frightens Presbyterians: evangelism.
Earlier this fall when the Rev. Brian Ellison, the new executive director of the Covenant Network, spoke to some members of my congregation, I asked if the network has put together something like a white paper to help congregations know how to tell others about our stance on ordination in a way that might get them interested in joining us. Brian said he’d talk to network members about producing just such a helpful piece.
Why do we need this? One reason is that we should have a chance to define ourselves without letting others define us. That means we need to describe our ordination process and our new openness to everyone in ways that help others see that we are engaged in radical hospitality – but that doesn’t mean we focus so exclusively on the ordination question that we have become a one-issue “gay church.”
So I appreciate the Covenant Network’s dual commitment to inclusivity and to the unity of the church (though it’s clear that some Presbyterians doubt its commitment to unity). It’s that dual message that would be good to communicate to a world that often sees Christians as close-minded and divisive.
In fact, that point of view is especially prevalent among younger people, who are moving increasingly into the category of religiously unaffiliated. As Ellison told us, most of those young people have long ago settled the gay-lesbian question in their minds and cannot imagine why it’s taken us as long as it has.
But how do we communicate this message of openness and unity effectively so we’re clear that we’re not a one-issue church?
What should our advertising say? How do we create programs and educational opportunities that help people understand how we arrived at our current position on ordination and what that says about how we seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ in a broken world?
When is talking about all of this giving it so much attention that it detracts from our job of preaching the Gospel and demonstrating what the coming reign of God will look like?
If our congregation is one of the rare ones that now has a gay or lesbian pastor on staff, do we suggest that the religion reporter on the local newspaper do a story about that or do we not call special attention to the fact, preferring the pastor’s ministry to speak for itself?
We need help with these and other questions, and I hope someone is working on answers.